Pakistan Indus flood diary - day one
- 13 September 2010
- From the section South Asia
Over the course of this week, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool is following the path of the destruction caused by the Pakistani floods by travelling the length of the country on the mighty Indus river.
In the first instalment of his diary, he begins his journey in the north-western Swat valley, going from north to south through Fatehpur, Kanju, Mingora and Gatzai. He will finish it in the southern province of Sindh. Along the way he will see first-hand how local people have coped with the damage.
PAKISTAN: FOLLOWING THE FLOODS - DAY ONE: SWAT
It has some of the most spectacular scenery in Pakistan, but the Swat Valley has also sustained some of the most dramatic damage caused by the floods.
The village of Fatehpur, where we started our seven-day journey, overlooks lush green peaks and the ice-cold Swat River, which in the heat looks so inviting.
But just over a month ago, following the heaviest rains ever recorded here, the river swelled to many, many times its normal size.
It surged through the valley, destroying Fatehpur's bridge. And not just that.
We quickly realised on our journey south that it had destroyed every one of more than 20 bridges in the valley.
A lot of them had been huge structures of reinforced concrete.
Buildings on either side of the valley had been left in ruins, or entirely swept away.
"You see that pole sticking out of the ground near the river?" asked Muhammed Rehman, 40, in the town of Kanju.
"That is all that remains of the Dubai Hotel. It was six storeys high."
From the spot on which we stood, he pointed out dozens of shops, a fuel station and a children's playground. All were gone.
"That playground was somewhere the children used to go to escape all the troubles in Swat," says Mr Rehman.
He is referring to the Taliban's takeover of the valley, their brutal rule, and then the huge Pakistani army operation that followed to oust them.
Until a few months ago, aid agencies here had been working to help the hundreds of thousands of families from Swat who had fled the fighting and returned once it was over.
The army had a huge presence here to try to keep the militants at bay.
Now both the charities and the military have diverted their resources to flood relief.
We saw the World Food Programme handing out rations close to Fatehpur and soldiers operating a rickety cable car that became the only means for thousands of people to cross the river at Gortai.
But so many people in Swat are still stranded because of the destruction of many transport links, and it will remain like that for months.
They are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
We met Usman Mumtaz, an engineer working on a bridge funded by the British government.
He told us they were working as fast as they could, but that it would not be until the end of the year that a bridge was completed that would allow crucial supplies to get to the isolated communities by truck.
Aid workers told us they had grave fears about the coming months, when the weather closes in and snowfall is expected.
"Helicopter flights will have to stop and these home-made chair-lifts that cross the valley won't be safe," said Ikramullah Khan from the UN.
"We simply don't know how we'll be able to help all those people on the other side of the river who have been cut off."
We now head south out of the Swat Valley, struck by the evidence we had seen of the sheer power of the floods.
The issues of isolation and the long-term damage done to the infrastructure, compounded by the problems already faced by people in the area had clearly left them with a sense of shock.
Next, we will continue to follow the path of destruction caused by the floods to an area where many lives were lost.